I’ve got a lot of stuff going on at the moment. Several projects I’m trying to finish up, both writing and editing. And of course the day job and all of the attendant things that go with that. Then there’s the state of the world…
Let’s not go to certain places in that regard.
Instead, I was thinking about a conversation I had a few months back with a young woman (in her early 20s) who identifies as lesbian. For further clarification, she’s cisgender.
She was telling me that it’s really difficult for her and other young lesbian-identified women to tap into a larger lesbian community. She told me she and her peers would really like to be around older lesbians and she want on to tell me that on her campus, lesbian-identified women are often marginalized because they don’t identify as “queer” or “genderqueer.” She kind of laughed at that and said she was just a boring lesbian. One of her friends chimed in at this point that she experienced backlash because she was accused of being part of a segment of radical feminists (some of whom identify as lesbian) who are seriously anti-trans.
In other words, she said, people hear the word “lesbian” and automatically assume she’s anti-trans because of this one segment of the radical feminist community. Which, as we all know, isn’t true. And the backlash right now against trans people in this country is catching all of us who identify as LGBTQI in its net. Hold on, friends. It’s sure to get uglier. And that’s a blog for another time.
Back to our younger audience.
I asked the two women I was speaking with what would be useful to them, in terms of contact with a larger lesbian community. And they both said just to be around older lesbians with or without partners, who have been around a while and weathered the storm, if you will. To be in contact with them, in a mentor fashion. To hang out. Go to dinner. Go to events. Just to have them as part of their circles of colleagues.
I remember being that age, and I remember thinking the same thing. Part of the problem when I was that age was that older LGBTQ people were afraid to be around younger ones, because part of the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric we were all subjected to is that older gays are sexual predators, and “recruiting” younger people, including kids. So it seemed, as I was coming of age, that older LGBTQ people tended to keep their distance and I understand why, though I would’ve liked being around older LGBTQ people.
And now that I’m “older,” and the myths are still out there, I wonder whether that might not be part of why my generation, too, might be leery about hanging out with younger LGBTQ people. It seems that this is as good a time as any to break that myth wide open, given the changing landscapes for LGBTQ people in this country.
And then I thought about this idea of “queer.” I know several young people (under 30) who identify as queer. That is, they don’t think of themselves as ascribing to heteronormative or homonormative ideals (that’s a whole discussion for elsewhere).
That’s a loaded word for some, “queer.” No doubt a few of you reading this blog remember it when it was used as a pejorative. Many of you probably recoil just reading it here. And for that I apologize even as I acknowledge the historical context of language and identity.
And I wonder if perhaps language isn’t also getting in the way of intergenerational discussions, when younger people throw a word around effortlessly in reference to themselves that was used as a bludgeon against older.
One of my colleagues in their late 20s identifies as queer and also uses the pronouns “they/their/theirs.” That’s now something that comes up when meeting any new group of people in LGBTQI and ally circles — “what pronouns do you prefer?” It’s almost a ritual, this announcement of your name and your pronouns and, in some cases, how you identify and it’s a little off-putting for older LGBTQI people, because it might seem ridiculous, asking about your pronouns but if you think about it, gender isn’t really something that’s binary.
We’ve been taught that it is, and that it’s supposed to match sex and physiology, but it really doesn’t. And in terms of human expressions of any of those, it’s a lot more fluid than we realize. For some of us who grew up in a world that demanded that binary, it’s a little hard to let go of that, even though we might understand that a binary isn’t how life is lived. It’s still a roadmap of sorts, for many of us conditioned in that context. A hook to hang our understanding of various parts of the world on. And it’s hard to try a different hook.
There’s a bewildering, dizzying array of terminology now for sexual orientation and gender identity (see here and here) — especially for those of us who grew up before increased visibility and the rise of the Internet, and yes, I’ll admit that there are days I feel like just a plain ol’ lesbian, especially around some younger people, who throw terms around like handfuls of confetti and are at home in that milieu, in the shifting currents of discourse and unfolding ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Some days, I feel like a throwback, like a retro manifestation of an antiquated sexual orientation, with a quaint not-quite-female and not-male appearance.
And some days, I feel valued, when a young person asks me for an opinion or guidance with something. I like being around young people. I like their ideas, I like their energy. I try to value them as I value my elders and peers, because they are the next wave of activists and thinkers and doers, and the more we can share what we know with each other, I think the better for everyone.
It’ll take some work. And as a writer, I’m struggling with getting more comfortable with terminology so I can bring even more characters into my stories, who are reflections of younger people now.
And I hope that in doing that, and in engaging as much as I can with younger people, that they’ll continue that, when they’re twenty, thirty, forty and more years beyond their current age bracket.
That, to me, is sharing the luv.
All that said, for those of you who write, are you dealing with this shift in language and generations? How does it affect your characters/plots? I’m curious.
And for readers, tell us some of the books you’re reading that bring in characters that fall all over the LGBTQI spectrum. And has anyone read anything with asexual characters? Is anyone writing asexual characters?
Share your thoughts below and happy Friday, all!